This article on How I Broke Into the Sports Industry and Landed a Role at Major League Soccer was originally published on MLT.
In February, Major League Soccer became an MLT Partner. We interviewed MLT Alum Tristan Mitchell (Career Prep 2006, MBA Prep 2011), who has been a Strategic Planning Manager with MLS since September 2016. He gave us insight on the organization and his path to breaking into the sports industry.
Can you touch upon your career journey so far (pre and post MBA) and how you landed at MLS?
After graduating from Howard University, I spent the first few years of my career working in supply chain management and then management consulting. Both of these opportunities were great for my professional development, however I found that when I left the workforce to begin my MBA at NYU-Stern, I was still uncertain about which direction I wanted to go post-graduation. During my second year of business school, I finally decided that I wanted to pursue a career in the sports industry. After graduation, I was one of the last people in my class to get a job, but I was determined to land a job either directly in sports or one which would allow me to easily transition into the industry.
Ultimately, I made the decision to work at a multicultural marketing agency so I could gain valuable experience learning how to effectively reach out to and communicate with multicultural audiences. Multicultural audiences have traditionally been some of the top consumers of sports content and effectively communicating with multicultural audiences will become increasingly important as brands try to create relationships with an increasingly diverse marketplace.
About 10 months into working at the agency I connected with Francisco Estrada, Senior Director – Recruitment & Diversity at MLS (he is also an MLT MBA Prep alumnus) through a mutual friend who informed me about a job that sounded like the perfect fit for my background and skillset. After a few rounds of interviews I landed my Strategic Planning Manager position and have been enjoying the experience ever since.
What attracted you to working in the sports industry?
I have always been a huge sports fan but I’ve also always been intrigued about what happens behind the scenes that helps to support and amplify the product we see on the court/field. Being able to directly impact a product that has such a positive impact on the lives of millions (including myself) is something I’m passionate about. When I was trying to break into the industry, I appreciated the fact that so many people I spoke with really enjoy what they do. Sports can be a very demanding industry and there are often more financially lucrative options out there, but the reason why many people stay in the industry is because they genuinely like what they do. It makes coming to work every day a much more fulfilling experience.
The sports industry is relatively small and is typically difficult to break into, can you share tactics and advice you would give to those interested in the industry?
First, learn as much as you can about the industry. This may sound pretty obvious but you would be surprised how many people I talk to who want to work in the industry just because they love sports. When you start to have a conversation with these people it quickly becomes apparent that they do not understand some of the inner intricacies of the industry that make it unique. SportsBusiness Journal is a great resource to dig into if you are trying to learn more about different people and organizations who are influencing the industry.
Second, speak with everyone you can. Try to build organic relationships with people you feel you have a connection with. Attend conferences. Leverage your network to get introduced to people already in the industry. Many times the best jobs are not the ones posted on career sites, but it’s the ones which circulate amongst people already in the industry. When those opportunities arise you want to be top of mind for people who are willing to put their name on the line to recommend you.
Finally, be patient. Have a clear vision of the type of role that you want but also be open to opportunities that might not look like what you initially envisioned. Getting your foot in the door is often the hardest step. You will quite possibly hear no more times than you would like to. If you are prepared, persistent, and dedicated to achieving your goal, eventually the right opportunity will come your way.
Can you reflect on your first six months at MLS? What has completely surprised you? What do you enjoy most about working for the organization?
My first six months at MLS were a great experience. I feel extremely blessed because I work with a great team and we get the chance to work on some really exciting projects for the League. I would not say it has been a complete surprise, but I am constantly impressed by the devotion and passion of our fans. We have some of the most engaged fans in North America and seeing how much the League means to our fans really helps to reinforce the impact of the work we do here at the League office.
What I love most about working for MLS is being able to work with a League that is expanding so rapidly. The League is much different than it was even two years ago and two years from now I’m sure it will look much different than it does today. Watching us add new teams (like my home team Atlanta United) and activating new fan bases is extremely exciting especially as we continuously work to become one of the top soccer leagues in the world.
I am also a big fan of the culture here at MLS. It is a very collaborative work environment that embraces different backgrounds and perspectives and the recruitment team has done a great job of bringing people in who mesh well together.
What does a day in your role as a Strategic Planning Manager look like?
My role is responsible for the analysis, insight development, plan creation, and implementation of strategic projects across the League and our Clubs. Projects that I’m involved in touch many areas of the organization such as fan engagement, media, commercial growth, and more. The Strategic Planning team at MLS is the business intelligence arm of the League and in many ways, the work we do is essentially like internal corporate consulting.
Like many consultants, there is no prototypical day. My day really depends on the projects I am currently working on and any other projects the department is responsible for. This can range from researching our fan base to gain insights into the minds of American/Canadian soccer fans to helping build a new strategic plan for one of our internal departments to performing an in-depth analysis of the business performance of one of our clubs. The wide range of projects that I am able to work on is one of the reasons I enjoy my job so much.
When you think back to your MLT experiences, what stands out as instrumental in helping you achieve your success so far?
When I look back at my MLT experiences, what always sticks out to me is the network of great people I was able to build long-standing relationships with. As I’ve progressed through my professional career, many of my friends from MLT are the people I continue to learn from and support as we travel down our career journeys.
How did getting your MBA, specifically from NYU Stern, help in your career?
My Stern MBA has been extremely helpful in my career because it gave me the opportunity to take a wide range of courses and get involved with a variety of business experiences which helped me refine my career vision and build a unique professional skill set. After taking my Business of Sports Marketing and Sports Economics courses, I knew that I had found a field that I wanted to build a career in.
Additionally, leveraging my business school network and the extended network of my classmates gave me the opportunity to connect with many professionals within the sports world that I likely would not have been able to connect with otherwise.
Bonus Question: With summer approaching what one or two books do you recommend folks pick up to help them either with their career or personal development?
Never Eat Alone: Keith Ferrazzi
One of my favorite books on networking and the power of relationships. Being able to reach out to people and build organic relationships is an essential skill and this book helps give you a general framework you can adapt to find your own personal style of networking.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future: Ashlee Vance
I’m a big fan of autobiographies because they give you a rare look into the mind of some of the most successful people in the world. This book is a great read that paints a well-rounded portrait of Musk’s multi-layered complexity to give you a better understanding of one of the most influential entrepreneurs of our generation.